The TV Column: Oprah’s long farewell kicks off with a star-studded ‘Spectacular’

May 23, 2011

In the longest TV-series finale ever, three whole days are being devoted to the laying to rest of Oprah Winfrey’s program.

Monday kicked off a two-day orgy of celebrities turning out to say goodbye to a daytime talk show under the banner “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular.” It’s the kind of turnout usually reserved for prime-time charity-fundraiser telethons after natural disasters.

Then on Wednesday, Oprah will do her very last turn as Queen of Daytime Talk TV. Plans for that day’s show are still top-secret.

Monday’s show went like this:

“One of the best kept secrets on the planet!” Voice-over Guy raved at the top of the show — nearly three weeks to the day after Oprah’s pal, President Obama, pulled off a surprise fatal attack on the hideaway of the most wanted man in the world.

Now that was one of the best kept secrets on the planet. This? It’s a TV show — details of which, if truth be told, had been pouring out for days.

“The Greatest, Grandest, Most Spectacular Surprise Ever,” Voice-over Guy continued modestly.

“With the help of some of the Biggest. Stars. On. The. Planet. . . . Living Legends.”

Out came Oprah in a long purple gown, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, to greet her thousands of Ultimate Fans in Chicago’s United Center, where the special was taped late last week, to accommodate the thousands of fans who attended.

The night’s first surprise: Tom Hanks, who would fill the role of master of ceremonies.

“Oh yeah!” Oprah shrieked. “Let the games begin!”

“You’re Oprah Winfrey!” Hanks said.

“You’re Tom Hanks!” Oprah observed.

Now that that had been straightened out, Hanks noted that “more than 40 million people tuned in every week” to her show over its 25 years, which, he said, “means billions of viewers over generations. And you’ve said it over and over again, Oprah — it’s all about them.”

“It’s all about them!” Oprah exclaimed.

Clips followed of John and Jane Does who had found comfort in the open TV arms of Oprah. The young mother whose 13-month-old daughter died unexpectedly in her arms. The young woman who was in a car with her mother and best friend when they were killed by a drunken driver — and who learned “the power of forgiveness” by watching the show.

Pulling off this super-secret show has been darned near a “Mission Impossible,” Hanks hinted as he cued up the next super-celebrity.

Can it be? It is! Tom Cruise! He hugged Oprah while simultaneously fist-pumping Hanks. Cruise wore gray slacks, black henley and an I’m-on-“Oprah” crazy-man grin.

“Woo-hoo! Tom Hanks! Tom Cruise!” Oprah said, to recap.

Cruise said he made his first appearance on the show in 1988. That’s more than 20 years ago. That would make him ancient by Hollywood standards. “You looked like you were 10,” Oprah hastened to add, saving him from the math.

Cruise continued to prattle on merrily until finally reaching his point: Oprah likes to quote that line that Glinda the Good Witch said to Dorothy near the end of “The Wizard of Oz”: “You always had the power.”

Out popped disturbingly adult-sounding 11-year-old “America’s Got Talent” singer Jackie Evancho, dressed in a little white gown and, of course, red ruby slippers. She sang the opening bits of the “Wizard of Oz” tune “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” then turned and clicked her heels together a few times. But she did not chant “There’s no place like home” because, duh, she’d rather be onstage with Oprah and Tom Cruise — and Josh Groban, who took over the number from her, until Patti LaBelle took it from him.

While Oprah sat at the side of the stage — one hand clutching Cruise, the other clutching Evancho, tears streaming down her face, her ponytail swaying to the tune — Groban and LaBelle began to battle to see who would get in the final note. We think Groban won by a hair, but he clasped Patti’s hand in the air over their heads, and they seemed to declare a truce.

“This magical evening is just getting started,” Voice-over Guy promised.

But first — they sold some products.

“Oprah! Oprah! Oprah!” the crowd screamed as it returned to our TV. Hanks was back, telling Oprah that one of her ultimate viewers just flew in from New York — a hardworking mother of four who says the show means the world to her.

Who could this hardworking mother be?

Madonna!

“Get OUT!” Oprah screamed as Madonna walked out onstage, dressed as a ’40s film star attending a parent-teacher meeting.

“It’s no secret millions of people are inspired by Oprah. I am one of those people,” Madonna said, swiftly turning the talk to, well, Madonna.

“Whenever I’m asked who my role models are — or to name women I can look up to — I always say, ‘Dead or alive?’ ”

Really, she did. You can’t make this stuff up.

Hanks and Oprah waited anxiously onstage, while we waited anxiously at home, wondering where Madonna was going with this.

“The dead list is long and diverse,” Madonna said, warming up to her subject — her. “The ‘alive’ list has one name on it.”

We held our breath.

“Oprah!”

“I’m not kidding,” Madonna added. Oprah did not look as though she thought Madonna was kidding. She looked like someone who was going to have words with the Harpo producer who put this clambake together had Madonna not said “Oprah.”

Madonna began to describe Oprah:

(1) She is a self-made woman.

(2) She is at the top of her game for more than 25 years and still kicking [heinie].

(3) Oprah apparently has male genitals — Madonna said so.

(4) Oprah has a wealth of compassion.

“I have learned so much from her,” Madonna said, gracefully turning the subject back to her No. 1 topic: Madonna.

“We both share a passion for educating girls in Africa. Oprah’s commitment toward building her girls’ academy in South Africa . . . has helped me to understand that it is possible and that, in spite of the challenges I’ve encountered trying to build a girls’ school in Malawi, that I should stay the course and keep going, no matter how much resistance I encounter.

“I’m here to say ‘thank you’ from all of those women and, most of all, thank you for inspiring me,” Madonna said. She named some of those other women out there, but you got the sense she was just waiting for the opportunity to return to herself. They cut to commercial before she could do that, for which we were truly grateful.

Dakota Fanning calls herself an Oprah Show Baby. Who knew? She was onstage after the break, surrounded by other children who call themselves the same thing. They began to tick off the things Oprah taught them:

“Because of you, Oprah, I love to read books,” said one.

“I’m 13, and I lost 20 pounds,” said another.

“Oprah, you helped me lift the shame of being abused and taught me that it wasn’t my fault. Thank you,” said a brave young girl.

“Because of the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show,’ we believe girls can rule the world!” Dakota said, summing things up.

That was Beyonce’s cue:

“Oprah Winfrey, because of you, women everywhere have graduated to a new level of understanding. Of what we are. Of who we are. And, most importantly of

“Who.

“We.

“Can.

“Be!”

And speaking of graduating, as Beyonce gave this moving speech, she was surrounded by a chorus of young women — all beautiful, all leggy. Some were wearing white mortarboard caps and gowns that barely covered their bottoms. Others had on crisp white shirts, suspenders, reading glasses, long red gloves, very high red heels and little black strips of fabric that were once skirts before some fool put them through the dry cycle. Beyonce and her girls proceeded to do a Girl Power bump-and-grind while Oprah watched with her mouth open. As was ours — though we think for different reasons.

That was followed by a segment in which Target promised to rebuild 25 school libraries across the country in honor of Oprah’s book club. Then Diane Sawyer came onstage and told Oprah that because Oprah loves her Big Oak Trees, “we” are going to plant an oak tree in front of those 25 libraries, as well as 25,000 oak trees that will be planted “across this country — sea to shining sea.” She did not elaborate as to who “we” is.

Then Halle Berry, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes — a.k.a. Mrs. Tom Cruise — talked a bit about men and women who have been inspired by Oprah to help others. After which Katie and Tom stood together and told America that, as we creep, slowly, ever closer to the very last “Oprah Winfrey Show” episode, they want her to know they will always be there for her, on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

“You never let go of us, your viewers, and we will never let go of you,” Katie said.

Discovery suits, who are in business with Oprah on this ratings-hungry network, recorded their promise for future use. If they’re as smart as we think they are, they did.

Then Rascal Flatts sang “I Won’t Let Go,” which we hope is not signaling a change of mind on Oprah’s part, and Part 1 of the two days of “Surprise Oprah!” was over.

Tuesday on “Surprise Oprah!”: Stevie Wonder, Jerry Seinfeld, Simon Cowell, Maria Shriver and others say so long to Oprah’s show.

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